Cheer Up: Things Could be Worse

The phrase “cautious optimism” is always overused in recessionary times. It’s often a way for financial analysts — and trade journalists — to put lipstick on an economic pig.

Nonetheless, the mood at ACCM, held last month in New Orleans, was tentatively positive. Granted, the marketers who still had the travel budget to attend the show and, presumably, their jobs, may have a better outlook than others.

And the mood in the exhibit hall was admittedly less than sunny, since fewer attendees at a show is never viewed as a good thing for suppliers. But several people I spoke to seemed to think we’re through, or nearly through, the worst of it.

The Power Forum panel on the first day helped set the upbeat tone. I had expected the panelists — Sheryl Clark, president of women’s apparel cataloger Boston Proper; Terry Jukes, president of e-commerce systems provider Ability Commerce; and Jack Rosenfeld, chairman of multititle mailer Potpourri Group — to dwell on the grim economy. But that wasn’t the theme at all.

For one, both Boston Proper and Potpourri Group are actually doing pretty well right now — who knew? And Rosenfeld made the point that as bad as things seem right now in our industry, they’ve been much worse.

Like in the early 1970s when the U.S. Postal Service went on strike — which threatened to destroy the catalog business. Or in the early ’90s when catalog mailers were hit with back-to-back 25% postal increases. And catalogers in those days didn’t have e-commerce to fall back on.

What’s more, the fact that the USPS is holding a summer postage sale for catalog mailers is an astounding industry development. (See “USPS summer mail sale a go”.) “The idea of a sale on Standard Mail is incredible,” Rosenfeld said. “It’s the best idea the Postal Service has come up with in 30 years.”

So is it time to break out the champagne and celebrate? Probably not yet. But you might take heart that the current situation could be much worse. It has been.

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